The night Martians landed in New Jersey
my father was just across the Hudson River
asking for my mother’s hand in marriage.
My grandfather is supposed to have said
You can have all of her. Then they drank
a schnapps, toasting life, toasting my mother
pacing in another room, and sat on the sofa
listening to chaos rising from the street.
It was a Sunday, getting late, getting dark,
and all my father could think about was
why such traffic? He had to be awake
by four, open his market by five, it was
already late to be driving back to Brooklyn.
As he stood, someone cried out on the fire
escape above. A radio crackled with static
as the wind shifted and rose, making scraps
of newspaper drift past the window.
He thought about all my mother wanted—
the honeymoon in Cuba, aproned maid,
ritzy apartment on a top floor, his thick
hands washed clean of blood even
under the fingernails before he ever
entered their home—and knew himself to be
in an alien world. But he was thirty,
she was twenty-eight, and it was time.
He walked out into the cold and saw
on a stoop across the street a woman
wearing ragged slippers and a mink stole
kneeling in prayer as the crowd rushed east.
One carried a canary in its cage.
A man grabbed my father’s arm. It’s happening
right now! Tears streaked the man’s face
as he said They’ve got heat rays and poison
gas. You’ll never make it and my father thought
But I just did. His car was surrounded,
a couple in evening wear draped across
its hood, a child perched on its rear bumper
holding a stuffed platypus. The Martians
are big as skyscrapers and fast as express
trains. Jersey’s gone. They’re coming this way.
My father unlocked the door and looked
back a moment to find my mother framed
in her window, arms akimbo, face turned
away from him as she watched neighbours
flow out of sight. He knew it was going
to take all night to find his slow way home.